Last week in Mashable, I saw a story about a man who was rescued from the rubble of the Hotel Montana after the earthquake in Haiti. It focused on how the survivor used a first-aid application on his smartphone to learn how to best treat his wounds while he waited for help, and how he used his camera flash to illuminate his surroundings just enough to find a safe place to wait for rescue.
The devastation in Haiti has been all over the news -- print, broadcast and Web -- so it's understandable that Mashable and other tech publications (IT Business Edge included) have worked to find ways to cover the story that will also be relevant to their readers. Judging from the comments on the Mashable piece, however, some readers were understandably upset that the writer would focus on this angle of the story when hundreds of thousands of Haitians killed or left homeless didn't have the luxury of a smartphone or other technology with which to "save" themselves.
Friday I had a chance to speak with Kim Fuller from James Lee Witt Associates about the role that social-media technology is playing in the relief effort. JLWA is a disaster recovery, business-continuity-planning firm founded by Witt, the former Clinton administration Federal Emergency Management Agency director. In recent days, the firm has been working with the Clinton Global Initiative to get resources to those affected by the earthquake, and also has a team working with the United States Agency for International Development to help the Haitian government get back on its feet.
Fuller pointed out that social-media technology in particular has added an interesting twist to the relief and recovery efforts -- and that twist has both good and bad sides. She said:
[W]hat's really fascinating is the fact that, because of social-media technology, information gets out there so quickly and people can mobilize very quickly. The downside is, I think that's why we're having some of these logistical challenges with the response. Some services got to Haiti so quickly that there wasn't an infrastructure in place to distribute [them]..
On the fund-raising side, however, social media has reportedly made a phenomenal impact. Fuller noted:
I believe the first five days of Hurricane Katrina, they raised $20 million. Now, with text messaging, in the first five days following this crisis, they raised $50 million. It just makes it so simple for people to contribute.